Hic Sunt Dracones

My hobby hibernation continued a little longer then planned, but now spring is here, nights are longer, and mood is lifted. Time to get working.

Dragons. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by them. The ultimate mythical beast. Almost every mythology features dragons in some form. There just so awesome. So, let’s paint one.

There are a lot of good dragon miniatures out there, of varying styles and cost. In the end I went with Forge Worlds carmine dragon, who haveĀ a number of high quality monster models at a decent price for their size.

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I love the model, but recently a friend pointed out to me biological problem with the dragon.

Now I will say, the dragon is a fantastical beast, any living creature of its size would have serious difficulties flying, and breathing fire would be another issue, so worrying about anything else is probably over thinking it, but still it’s ea point worth exploring.

The dragon picture above has 6 limbs – 4 legs, 2 wings. This sort of animal doesn’t occur naturally in real life (well, insects do are not vertebrates so we’re ignoring them). Look at birds and flying mammals, and even winged dinosaurs, their wings evolved replacing their forelimbs.

Of course there are Wyverns, dragon like creatures who have 2 legs and a pair of wings, a barbed tail, and a venomous bite. In fact in medieval sources the words dragon and wyvern were used for the same thing, it wasn’t until the 16 century that a distinction was made, and this is for heladric purposes. For me, a dragon is not a wyvern, but I don’t think the amount of limbs it has is the defining point.

Hollywood appears to have picked up on the same issue. Dragons appearing in movies such as the Harry Potter series, and also on TVs Game of Thrones have only 4 limbs. Perhaps the most important is the evolution of the first dragon to captivate me, the great Smaug. The Hobbit was one of the first real books I remember reading, and Smaug is at the centre of the entire novel. Tolkien shaped the fantasy genre, and his version of the dragon is the standard template. In the novel he is described as having 6 limbs, but interesting Peter Jacksons movie trilogy went on a different direction (not that I loved the aHobbit movies but that’s a different issue). The Smaug that appeared on us bif screen had just the four, and if anything he was even more menacing for it. And there is no way I would class Smaug as a wyvern.

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I’ve come to view dragons in two ways. The first is the mythical noble beast of high fantasy, proud, ancient, incredibly intelligent, walking around on 4 legs with 2 massive wings, a creature that can only exist due to magics. The second is a more beastal creature, 2 legged, wings instead of forarms, the cunning intelligence of an apex predator, spitting venom or acid over fire. It almost brigs to mindTerry Pratchets Diskworld, where there were two types of dragon, the naturally evolved small big dweller that explodes when scared/excited/happy, and the big beasts of myth created out of pure magic.

Even as I write this I worry that I am coming across as an insane man trying to justify the impossible, which is possibly true, but at the same time it’s part of my creative method. For me the best fantasy and science fiction has to be grounded in reality, otherwise how can we relate. So when I put a model together I try to keep it as natural as possible, otherwise it just doesn’t look right. Now there are times that making a model look unnatural, and thus shocking, is the desired result, but even then I find the best result still has to have some anchor back to our natural reality. At a base level the dragon needs to look real. I’ll apply the same process to painting, dragons are often portrayed in reds, blues and vivid greens, and if I go down that route, and while bright colours can work, I prefer to keep thing a little more natural.

Where does this leave my model. It probably wouldn’t be the hardest job to remove her fore arms and bring the wings down lower to replace them. But, it’s such a gorgeous model as is, and the extra work creates extra risk. In other words, I haven’t decided yet, but that’s ok, I’m still building up the details on the base, and making sure the main body is built gaps are filled before she becomes to fiddly. Hopefully next post I’ll have a full dragon ready to paint, either with 4 or 6 limbs.

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Hic Sunt Dracones